When spread on fields, the nutrients in livestock manure can help crop production. The same nutrients, however, can contaminate water sources and have harmful effects on the environment if not applied properly to frozen or snow-covered fields.
While some states have implemented strict regulations or bans on the spreading of manure during winter months, farmers in many regions brave the cold and continue to spread manure safely by taking the following precautions:
- Monitor the weather. Forecasted rain, rapid snowmelt, or ground thawing are times when manure application should be avoided. These conditions increase the likelihood of nutrient loss due to runoff.
- Analyze & prioritize your fields. Fields that are located near a water source or that have a slope greater than 3% have an increased risk of nutrient runoff. If you must apply manure to these fields, do so early in the winter, when there is less risk of a sudden snowmelt or rainfall.
- Plan ahead to maximize nutrient absorption. Planting a cover crop, leaving crop reside, or tilling the soil prior to winter can allow for better absorption and reduce the risk of runoff.
- Avoid spreading on frozen soil, if possible. Store nutrients until spreading conditions are favorable. If manure application is necessary, use solid manure.
- Keep detailed records. Record all field applications.
- Have an emergency plan in place. Know who to contact if you suspect that nutrient runoff is negatively affecting water quality.
- May, Gerald, and Shelby Bollwhan. “Reducing the Risks Associated with Winter Manure Application.” Michigan State University Extension.
- Pepin, Randy. “What’s the big deal with winter spreading of manure?” The University of Minnesota Extension.
- Rector, Natalie. “Spread Manure In Winter With Great Caution”. Michigan State University Extension.